Homeless people in downtown Maple Ridge can be connected to services by Community Safety Officers. (Neil Corbett/The News

Homeless people in downtown Maple Ridge can be connected to services by Community Safety Officers. (Neil Corbett/The News

Many Maple Ridge citizens apply to join safety ambassadors team

Volunteers already patrolling with RCMP and city’s safety officers

The number of people patrolling the streets and parks of downtown Maple Ridge is increasing, as a new group of volunteers joins with the city’s Community Safety Officers and Ridge Meadows RCMP officers.

The city last month announced its new Integrated Safety Ambassador Team (ISAT), and the number of volunteer citizens coming forward has already surpassed the needs in the new program.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge launches new integrated safety ambassador team

RCMP crime prevention unit supervisor Blair Berkner said the patrols have already started, and there are now 22 fully trained ISAT officers, with another 20 being trained this month. The first patrol hit the streets on Oct. 20. With existing RCMP Citizens on Patrol volunteers, there will soon be 88 volunteers.

There were another 32 applications for ISAT volunteers that came in last week alone.

“We’re receiving more applicants than we need at this point,” said Berkner, adding the applications will still be kept on file.

Berkner said some these volunteers are career-minded people.

“A lot are young people who are looking to become a police officer or a CSO down the road,” he said, noting that high turnover is expected from that group.

It gives them a foot in the door to a career as a peace officer, and these applicants are valued, said Berkner.

There is also a large group of senior citizens, including retired police officers who want to get involved. They enjoy the camaraderie with like-minded people, and this avenue of community service.

“And there are also young parents, with families, looking to give back in some way, and this way is the most appealing to them.”

Berkner explains any complaint from a business will get a prioritized response from the RCMP or a CSO.

For ISAT, a shift is much different than a CSO or RCMP shift.

“A great shift would be recording and connecting positively with a lot of people,” explained Berkner.

The team members would hand out stickers and temporary tattoos to kids. They could stop in at businesses, and make sure that their front windows are clear, so they have unobstructed sight lines as people come and go from their shops. They could visit parks and trails, taking note of needles, graffiti or vandalism, and document this on their devices to city staff can take action. They could remind people not to leave any valuables visible as they park their vehicles.

Eventually, as community events again become commonplace, the ISAT teams will walk in small teams, as they did at Celebrate the Night.

Not everyone is chosen. Applicants go through a security clearance process, which is more involved than the simple criminal record checks which must be undertaken by community sports coaches and other volunteers. They must also be 19 years of age at least, and have a clean driving record – because they might be expected to use RCMP or city vehicles on occasion.

The patrols will consist of two volunteers in uniforms, along with either a Community Safety Officer (CSO) or a member of the RCMP. Eventually, the volunteers will be able to go out on their own. They will be equipped with the same radios used by the CSO’s as well as a device they can use to track their tour and record information.

Berkner said the group’s initial focus will be on the downtown core, but its mandate will be city-wide outreach. Eventually, some of the patrols will set off on focused shifts, with goals derived from citizen or business complaints, or from crime analyst statistics. For the first while, as the volunteers become accustomed to their new “jobs,” the patrols will not be targetted.

Everyone chosen will be be trained in crime prevention, under the guidance of both RCMP Supt. Wendy Mehat and CSO manager Chad Cowles. They will learn about radio protocols, crisis intervention, de-escalation and get shift overviews, over the course of about three days of instruction.

The volunteers are out for two shifts per week at the present time, generally in afternoons.

“We’re going to expand that to almost every night,” he said.

The program has the support of the Ridge Meadows RCMP.

“Public safety is not only a core strategic priority nationally for the RCMP but is very important for us as we serve the community locally,” said RCMP Superintendent Wendy Mehat. “To strategically utilize our RCMP volunteers in this specific and innovative way, in collaboration with the city, has not been done before. The citizens of our communities value public safety and if anyone would like to become part of this innovative program we would love to welcome you.”

The Community Social Safety Initiative and the Community Safety Officers have been this council’s answer to addressing criminal activity downtown, ensuring citizens feel safe, and trying to deliver services for homeless people, Mayor Mike Morden said when promoting his vision for the CSSI two years ago.

The CSSI has 35 initiatives included the CSO program, which was expanded in the current budget to allow staffing 16 hours per day, seven days a week. They are tasked with addressing social issues including homelessness, drug addiction and mental illness.

Morden is a booster of the new volunteer patrol program.

“The ISAT program, developed under Council’s CSSI, is the first of its kind in Canada,” the mayor said last month. “Trained community volunteers, along with a host of frontline resources contribute as part of a larger team dedicated to making our community a safer place for all citizens and businesses.

“ISAT delivers yet another piece towards the build of what is a complex mosaic that further adds to the development of our social safety net, playing its part to connect people with the services needed to live better lives.

READ ALSO: Maple Ridge looks to hire more Community Safety Officers

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